Cartagena oil refinery strike ends after wage agreement

A union-led work stoppage at one of Colombia’s largest oil refineries, located in the northern city of Cartagena, has ended after a wage agreement was struck just three days after strikes began, media reported Monday. 

Colombia’s national oil workers’ union, the Union Sindical Obrera (USO) successfully negotiated a pay increase of between 40 and 100 percent for employees of the REFICAR plant, according to its leader Redolfo Vecino. He said: “We reached a $104.5 million deal for salary increases.”

The strike officially began at 10am on Friday after talks between the union and officials from the REFICAR plant and other involved parties broke down. The strike was certified by the Minister and vice-Minister of Labor who oversaw the negotiations after they confirmed that legal guidelines for labor disputes had been met in order to begin a strike.

MORE: Strike freezes expansion of Colombia’s oil refining capability

The REFICAR refinery, fully-owned by Colombia’s state oil company Ecopetrol, is currently undergoing a $6.47 billion expansion led by the Chicago Bridge and Iron Co (CB&I), a Texas-based engineering, procurement and construction company with operations throughout the world. Ecopetrol plans to increase capacity once the project is completed, set to be in 2015 under current schedule, to 165,000 barrels per day from a previous 80,000.

Because of the strike’s short duration, refining operations are said to have been unaffected, with the expansion project suffering only minor set-backs. A company spokesman said: “It was a deal which enabled the project to continue without causing a significant delay to the timetable.”

Following a 6,578 out of 7,000 member union ballot in favor of industrial action, around 10,000 workers on the project were involved in the strike against CB&I which has been accused of third party contracting workers in violation of international labor standards. A REFICAR spokesman had said at the beginning of the strike: “The company laments the start of the strike by the union and its consequences, particularly the suspension of labor contracts of 10,000 workers of CB&I Colombiana SA who will no longer receive their salaries.”

Vecino made clear last week that the strike was primarily about CB&I’s wage contracts: “We started a strike over the intransigent policies of CB&I with regard to demands of workers who earn salaries well below those paid by other companies in the sector.”

The industrial action was the first in the Colombian oil sector in nine years. However the sector has seen its share of labor disputes over the last few years. In 2012, for example, the USO was involved in a labor dispute with Canadian oil extraction company Pacific Rubiales in the Meta department. Colombian NGO Proyecto Gramalote accused Pacific Rubiales of issuing threats against workers engaged in organizing efforts while the USO criticized its creation of an in-house “yellow union” during negotiations.


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